The Chinese Communist Party has created a secret watch list that contains the personal information of hundreds of Americans and other foreign individuals. The watch list, obtained by Australian cybersecurity firm ‘Internet 2.0’, has data that includes names, passport numbers, date of birth, etc. of international travelers who passed through Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport between 2018 and 2020.
In total, 697 American nationals are featured on the list, including children. It is unclear why Beijing created it. A well-known name on the list is Grammy-winning singer Ashanti who had passed through the airport in 2018. Executives from companies like Microsoft, Apple, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and GE Healthcare, are also included. Several professors and researchers from U.S. universities, including a top administrator at NYU Shanghai, and an official working for the U.S State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs are also named.
Over 100 British citizens, including business leaders and government leaders, are also included on the list, and the MI5 is said to be investigating the issue. The database has thousands of Uyghurs, who are deemed as terrorists, including 400 minors; some of whom are five years old. By visiting a mosque, Uyghurs can be listed as a potential terrorist.
Almost 161 Australians are present, including a former intelligence chief of the country. In an interview with ABC, Samantha Hoffman, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that the watch list is similar to other public security databases maintained by the Chinese Communist Party.
“I’ve seen evidence of the same system type being developed in other cities and provinces across China in a standardized way… Although this data is showing information from a limited time period, it shows how foreigners could get caught up in China’s surveillance state when they’ve passed through the country, even if that system isn’t fully established yet… It shouldn’t be a surprise to any foreigner visiting China that they might be tracked,” she told ABC.
Hoffman thinks that the collected data is fed into a Chinese program called Skynet, which aims to connect threat intelligence, public security databases, facial recognition cameras, and command-and-control systems across the country.
According to Internet 2.0, the database allows us to understand how China is building up its surveillance state and how such information is leveraged as a means of control. The data on Uyghurs show that China is blurring the lines between counter-terrorism and political crimes, and law and order. David Robinson and Robert Potter, CEOs of the company, warned that the watch list exposes China’s ambitions and an ability to impose its will within the jurisdiction without any concern for privacy or accountability.
A latest report by Human Rights Watch warns about Beijing’s techno-authoritarianism having gone global. The communist regime, together with several Chinese companies, has created an internet ecosystem that “delimits and controls” the internet within a state’s borders.
“Because China lacks the rule of law and a free press, there is no easy way to obtain information from these companies or hold them accountable for abuses. In other words, the values of Beijing’s brand of authoritarianism permeate its technosphere. Consistent with the government’s so-called win-win diplomacy, recipient countries receive systems that promise control and efficiency. In return, China gains influence and data,” according to the report.